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090511- Bravo Zulu

Dear Son,

It was good to see you today. I know I have said I am proud of you a few times before, but that was for the decision and commitment you made. I am proud of you today for what you have accomplished and the bearing it will have on the rest of your life.

The man whose hand I shook at PIR was not the boy that I dropped off at the recruiters office 2 months ago. You are more confident and sure of yourself. You looked me in the eye when I shook your hand and gave you the challenge coin. Your walk is different and you carry yourself with purpose. In 2 months, the Navy polished up what i worked on for 20 years.

When you went to the bathroom at lunch your buddy told Kyle that you mentioned numerous times that you said you missed throwing the football with him. As a parent that one sentence imploded me. Kyle admires you and misses you greatly and it was the single most important thing to him that he bring a football for you guys to throw while we were together. To see my sons connect like that melts my heart as a father.

I want to wish you luck in “A” school and to encourage you to keep your eye on the ball. Make good decisions, not only related to your career, but in your daily life as well. You sound like you have a financial plan, but don’t forget to have a plan for where you want to be when you get out of the Navy as well. I have mentioned before that the best laid plans are obsolete the moment they are interested, but that doesn’t diminish the need for a plan to chart your course by.

Please remember to call your mother weekly and let her know what is going on in your life. Send emails and pictures when you can and remember that wherever the Navy takes you, you are always a Texas boy.

Bravo Zulu, son.

Love, 

Dad

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090314- Carpe Diem

“O Captain! My Captain ! Our fearful trip is done, the ship has weathered every rock, the prize we sought is won, the port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting.” Walt Whitman

Dear Son,

These are the last few days of what will probably be the most transformative experience of your life.  As I write this you are probably sitting on a bench with your unit, gas masks on, preparing to experience what you hope you never have to go through in real life.  When you get this you will be preparing to experience your graduation, a moment in your life that will never be repeated.  Relish it, you have worked hard to get to this place.

Seize this day, because it will be a unique one in your life.  The port is near, you are almost a sailor in the US Navy, the most powerful and respected Navy in the world.  You have weathered the rocks of the last few weeks and the prize you sought is within reach!  Take a moment to appreciate your accomplishment son.  Appreciate that for every 100 SR’s that come in the doors, only about 84 of them leave as sailors.  It’s important to stop and recognize milestones in your life, and this is certainly a big one.

Even though it is a milestone, it is only a waypoint on your journey.  As you navigate through your life you are going to look back and see moments where you paused and the direction changed a bit.  Your next big one is graduation from “A” school and then you are off to the fleet.  Attack “A” school with the same vigor as you hit bootcamp and you are sure to be a success. Find ways to excel and rise above your peers and show those up the chain that you are self motivated and a man of integrity.  Small things can impact your career in a big way.  (I always picture you stealing moments to get in a few clandestine pushups.)

At the end of these letters, I want to share one more piece of advice.  And as you travel the world, it might just be one of the most important to remember: No matter where you travel, it is widely accepted that some of the most beautiful women in the world are Thai teenager boys.  Advance carefully.

Love,

Dad

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090414- Master of My Fate

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” William Ernest Henley.

I remember the moment you told me you had decided to go into the Navy.  We were sitting in the living room and you kind of casually mentioned that you were thinking about it.  The second you said it I knew it was the right decision for you.  I also knew it was the moment you took control of your life.

Remember when you turned 16 and we went to McCormick & Schmick’s?  I gave you that silver compass that I had Ephesians 5:15 inscribed on; “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise, but wise.”  The reason I gave you that compass is that it is important we have something outside our lives to guide us.  The compass always points north, regardless of the circumstances it is placed in, which allows us to use it to guide us and let us know where we stand in relation to true north.

As you man the helm of your life, it is important to have something outside your own frame of control and morality to guide you.  As I have mentioned before, I don’t expect you to choose my faith just because I do, but I want to encourage you to seek some standard to measure yourself against.  When you navigate a boat you pick the farthest fixed object you can find as your point of reference and work towards it.  In life it helps to do the same.

Life is, at best, like the weather.  We think we have the power to predict it and plan for it, but in the end, all we can really do is react to it.  Plan your journey, but also have a contingency plan.  Be prepared when life throws waves & storms at you that take you off course.  Don’t forget that for all your planning, you never considered the Navy until a year ago.  That was a major course correction that came up fairly abruptly; there will be others.

Choose your path carefully as well.  Remember one of our favorite Dwight Schrute quotes: “Whenever I’m about to do something, I think, ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if they would, I do not do that thing.”

Walk as wise, not unwise.

Love,

Dad.

idiot

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082614- BATTLESTATIONS

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” Syrus Pubilius

Dear Son,

When you get this you will probably just have been through gas chamber testing and are getting prepared for Battlestations, your final challenge in bootcamp.  It’s game day, everything else has led up to this.  Battlestations is where you are pushed in real world settings to break.  Don’t let the calamity of the moment confuse you; calm your mind and work methodically through the situation as you have been taught.

When your youngest brother was born, literally everything was going wrong at once.  He was dying inside your mother at the same time she was bleeding out.  Both their lives were in peril PLUS the doctors and nurses had to deal with me outside the doors.  Instead of being overwhelmed by two patients in trauma and a husband freaking out, they broke the problem down into its components and attacked it piece by piece.  First, they got the baby out and then had a group handling your mother and her issues, another handling your brother and his issues, and a very stern Nurse Ratchet was assigned to handle me in the hallway.  Calm thinking in the middle of a storm saves lives and solves problems.

When you are presented with a seemingly impossible situation, break it down into it’s solvable pieces and handle it in order of urgency.  By looking at it as a group of smaller problems instead of one large one, almost any challenge can be solved efficiently.

It’s like the age old question: How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Slow your mind and visualize the path through the problems and you will be successful in Battlestations.  I have faith in you.

Love,

Dad

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082414- Saltwater cures all.

“The cure for anything is saltwater. Sweat, tears, or the sea.” Isak Denison

Dear Son,

Your mother and I watched you online in today’s graduation ceremony.  That was a pretty impressive performance!  It was good to see you and you did a great job.  By the way, you are certainly getting your money’s worth from that haircut.

The other day I went by Sam’s and when I was leaving when I saw a woman sitting on the bumper of her minivan, crying.  She had a kid in a Baby Bjorn, one in the seat on the shopping cart and a seat kind of strapped to the top of the cart and everyone was crying. Anyone with multiple kids would know the second they saw her what she was feeling. So I asked if I could help load her van (She had bought something that wasn’t going in right which was what started the meltdown.) She said it was just overwhelming and didn’t know if she could do it any more. I said I had 3 sons and understood completely. I told her my oldest was graduating from bootcamp in a couple weeks and we would pay anything to have those days back. We had just seen you in the other classes graduation and it was very emotional for us. I told her even though it was a tough one, that she’d miss these days. I helped her get her kids in and sent her off & just thought about “those” days. We thought they were impossible and that we’d never get through them and yet those were the “good old days.” The days when our kids needed us and sought out our comfort and smiled when we came in the room to get them. When they’d fall asleep in their cribs with their butt up in the air, or on my chest while we were watching TV… I didn’t have the heart to tell her she would have to survive the Jr. High & High School years before her kids would come back to her. It was a “moment” for both of us, but in completely different ways.

Regardless of where your job takes you in the Navy, it is important to show compassion and empathy to people that are struggling.  Even in the heat of battle, there is always room to help out another person.

We are never stronger than when we show compassion for the weak.

Love,

Dad

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081414- Confidence

“Believe in yourself!  Have faith in your abilities!  Without a humble, but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”  Norman Vincent Peale

Dear Son,

We just got your letter and your mother and I are laughing at your comments about them making you shave twice a day.  You and I definitely struggle from the same issues.  A word of advice, the electric razor is not your friend.

It was interesting to hear that your ship superiors have crumbled under their own self-importance. There is a big difference between being confident and being over-confident.  I find many times people who take promotions for the purpose of ruling their subordinates and stroking their own egos flame out in dramatic fashion.  Just because someone wants something does not mean that they should always get it, especially when it comes to leadership.

An old rancher called the county commissioner a “post turtle” at the coffee shop one day and a young city fellow asked him to explain. “When you’re driving down a country road and you see a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that’s a post turtle. You know he didn’t get up there by himself. He doesn’t belong there; he can’t get anything done while he’s up there; and you just want to help the poor, stupid guy get down.”

I think your brand of quiet self confidence is going to serve you well in your Naval career, especially in the job you have selected.  They want men who not only are willing to lead, but those who are smart enough to get the job done and who people will actually follow.  There is an old quote that says “If you think you’re leading and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.”  Being a leader isn’t about position, it’s about ownership, competence and confidence, as well as inspiring others to follow you.

Don’t be a post turtle.

Love,

Dad

postturtle

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081314- Technology

“To insure safety at sea, the best that science can devise and that naval organization can provide must be regarded only as an aid, and never as a substitute for good seamanship, self-reliance, and sense of ultimate responsibility which are the first requisites in a seaman and naval officer.” Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

Dear Son,

I remember when we visited the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg last year.  You really seemed to take your time and absorb the enormity of what happened there and I was proud that you seemed to connect to Admiral Nimitz and his story.  He was a man who used the resources he had, not only for his own growth, but the defense of the USA and the betterment of the Navy, plus, he was a Texan.

When it comes down to it, technology doesn’t make us smarter, if anything it makes us dumber.  At the end of the day we need to know how to operate if we are left to our own devices.  There was a time when I could remember 100 people’s phone numbers, find my way anywhere in town and do arithmetic in my head.  Now if I lose my cell phone, I can’t even remember your mothers number to help me find it.  I remember on my last trip to Kansas City, I headed up to Omaha for a few days and someone called me and asked me where I was and I had no idea (I wasn’t lost, I just didn’t know where I was at the moment- totally different), I just put an address into my phone and it was telling me where to go, I literally had no idea what state I was in for a time.

Always think of the technology you are given as a tool to extend your natural talents.  Your job in the Navy is one that requires a lot of brain power to execute successfully.  You will be given amazing electronic resources to pull it off, but at the end of the day, the filter is you.  It’s your job to bring everything together and help your team be successful.  It takes intelligence, confidence and instinct.  Be a student every day of your life and become the expert in your field.  Be the one that people seek out when there is an unsolveable problem; you have that in you.

I remember a story about Admiral Nimitz wanting to give a gift to Fredericksburg on Founder’s Day but the time schedule wouldn’t allow him to stop.  They say they had the plane he was traveling on fly over town and he dropped it on a little parachute.  This was a man that knew where he came from and never forgot.  No matter where the Navy takes you, remember that you are a Texan and your mother always has a bed and a hot meal for you.

Love,

Dad

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080814- Perspective

“A Journey is like a marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” John Steinbeck

Dear Son,

We just got your latest letter.  I am glad to see you are doing well.  I think it is funny that you are only allowed to work out as a group and that you got yelled at for doing pushups on your own.  Don’t allow the RDC’s to get in your head, if they weren’t yelling at you for something stupid, they would make something up with someone else.

You have always been a planner.  Even when you were a child you had to know what was coming up.  It wasn’t good enough to say we were going to do something “later”, you wanted to know the exact time and then you would keep checking back to make sure we were on target.

The funny thing about life is that it has it’s own time-scale.  Things don’t always happen when you have planned for them.  In fact, I’d say MOST of the time, life comes at you when you least expect it.  As I have told you a hundred times, just relax and take things as they come.

When I was young I had everything planned out:  I’d get my degree, travel for a few years, start my career, find a woman then settle down and have a few kids.  I had no idea that your mom would be at The University of Texas, but I literally knew the second we met I was going to marry her. (She told me at the end of a hard-earned first date that I wouldn’t even get a second date… that was the last time I won a disagreement.) After getting married we reworked the plan. Then you showed up and we reworked the plan again and again and have been doing so for over 20 years now.  Life has a pesky way of getting in the way of your plans.

When I look back over the last twenty something years she and I have been together, I laugh at myself thinking I had any control of this journey.  Sure, there are a few things that I wish would have gone differently, but who am I to think I am driving this boat?  Life only makes sense in retrospect.  We can never truly understand what we are going through while we are going through it.  It is only with the perspective of time and context that we can see how the pieces fit and the “why” becomes apparent.  Knowing that one fact is the key to happiness.

They say even the best battle plans are obsolete the moment they are implemented and I am living proof.  I want to encourage you to plan for the things you can control, but leave some slack in there for the things you can’t.  Get up every day prepared to do your best and work your plan, but be ready to make a new one based on what the day brings.

Love,

Dad

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080714- Overcoming Obstacles

 “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”  Ernest Hemingway

Dear Son,

I woke up this morning really missing you.  I think it had something to do with a guy I saw walking around the lake yesterday with his four year old son holding hands.  We used to take walks like that and it was a game of a thousand questions with you.  I miss those walks and all those questions.

I have never claimed to be the world’s best dad.  I think most of the time I just look for other dads that I am not as bad as to compare myself to.  I see guys at breakfast sitting there with their sons, focused on their smartphone while the kid is trying to engage them and think, “I never did that.”  Or fathers shouting down their sons on the practice field thinking they are building their boys up while really just insulting them… while I may not have been Superdad, I feel comfortable knowing that I wasn’t a super dud.

I knew when you were born what kind of a father I wanted to be to you and your brothers.  I wanted to help you be strong and independent.  I wanted you to fail as well as win so that you would learn to be a gracious loser as well as a respectful winner.  So many lessons in life are learned through painful moments, and I did not want to deprive you of them.  I think it’s important to say here that many peoples’ faith-journeys start in painful places as well.

I always felt that I was not here to go ahead of you and clear obstacles out of your path as much as coach you on how to navigate them.  I am here to encourage you and push you to keep moving even when it seems impossible and you want to quit.  Successfully making it through something that seemed impossible on the front end is one of the most gratifying experience life can deliver us.  I have to think boot camp will be one of those experiences in retrospect.

I have heard it said that the children are the teachers.  I don’t think I would have believed that statement before I had sons, but I am certainly a fan after having done so.  We only THINK we are in control of this thing called life.  I think of the story of Dick Holt, who competes in triathlons with his paraplegic son.  He had a special bike built so his son can ride with him, a special chair made so he can push him during the running phase, and when he swims, he wears a harness and pulls an inflatable raft behind him so his son doesn’t miss out on anything.  At the end he picks him up and carries him across the finish line.  I wonder if it is possible to watch that video and not wish you are or would be that kind of dad.

Don’t be afraid to fail son, and don’t ever think that the man you are today is all God has planned for you.  Just when you think you’ve laid it all on the line and seen your own boundaries, life has a way of showing you how much more you can be.

I love you son,

Dad

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080514- Conflict

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” Proverbs 27:17forging

Dear Son,

You should be in the thick of Hell Week by now. The more I think about it, I like the idea of a “Hell Week”.  I have been through a few of them in the past and I always come out stronger and more focused.  I became better for having been put through it.

This bible verse is key to understanding the true nature of men.  For the most part, the process of creating strong men is similar to the forging process of steel.

A swordsmith takes a chunk of metal, heats it up then pounds it out… it’s hard, hot work; not for the weak or faint of heart.  Many times they will take different kind of metals and layer them before they pound them out.  Once they get the raw shape they desire, after many heatings, poundings and coolings, they begin the much longer process of polishing, sharpening and honing the blade.  This process, while no less difficult, requires a different set of skills to produce the desired result.  Only after the sword has been through the entire process is it valuable to it’s owner.

Sharpening men is a similar process.  You start with an unpolished, hard-headed individual with potential, then work him into the man he is destined to be.  Like steel, it is our nature to fight back against change, but like the swordsmith, life always has a bigger hammer and a hotter furnace to plunge us into.  Hell week is kind of like that in that it is a reheating and repounding of the steel.  The first week of boot camp was a big transition and then it settled for a bit, now they are cranking up the heat to see what you have learned and take you to another level.  Then it will ease down a bit and then you are off to Battlestations.  By the time you graduate, you are like that sword blank that has been forged and pounded by the blacksmith then handed off to your “A” school to be polished before you can be a useful tool to the Navy.

Focus your mind and imagine you are those layers of steel being heated and pounded and cooled and heated and pounded… each hammer strike throwing sparks and bringing you closer to your ultimate state.  Allow that it is the job of the RTC to apply the heat and pressure needed to release what you are to become.  Use that as a place to send your mind when it gets difficult.  Imagine the beautiful katana that you are to become through this process.

You can do this.

Love,

Dad

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